People are still asking me, more than a month after the fact, “What was it like, singing with Barry Manilow?”

“It was awesome–a once in a lifetime experience,” I usually say, before proceeding to bore the person who’s just asked me about it for as long as he or she will allow.

The opportunity to sing in Barry Manilow’s “choir” during his performance in Memphis on February 10 was an unexpected benefit that came as a result of my participation in a local singing group known as Memphis Masterworks Chorale.

Our group was busy preparing for a performance of Mendelssohn’s Elijah when the Barry Manilow invitation came. From Mendelssohn to Manilow. Yes, it is (and was) quite a stretch, but we were definitely up to the task, even though our performance of Elijah was scheduled for only a couple of nights after the Manilow concert.

We turned up–about thirty of us–at FedEx Forum in downtown Memphis on the afternoon of February 10 excited but without any truly clear idea of what to expect.

We were met by John, our “coach” from the Manilow organization, who gave us special badges to wear before shepherding us into the arena and through security. It’s John’s job to “train” the local choirs or choral groups who are invited to perform wherever Barry Manilow’s “One Last Time” tour is playing.

What a brilliant idea–asking local singers to take part in Barry Manilow’s performance! My guess is that the goal is to create a buzz about the show both locally as well as on social media. If so I would say that it definitely worked!

For example, I have to admit that one of the things that I loved most in the run-up to the big night was simply telling people about what I was preparing to do. “You’re doing what?” my husband said.

I got a kick out of telling friends and family and then watching as their eyes widened and their jaws dropped. Some of my female friends squealed or even screamed with delight. It was fun telling people on Facebook, too.

After arriving at FedEx Forum, our group had several hours during which to rehearse. First we went onstage, where John and Kai, one of Barry’s backup singers, helped us rehearse what they described as some “easy” dance moves. Later we practiced singing in our choir rehearsal room (which, as I understand it, is the room where the NBA refs usually hang out.)

Some of us brought our music, which the Manilow people had emailed to us ahead of time, while others didn’t bother, since we weren’t going to be using music anyway (and in any case the vast majority of our group–with the possible exception of a few young people–already know virtually all of Barry Manilow’s songs by heart.)

We’d been told that we would be singing near the end of Barry’s performance, on “I Write the Songs,” “Copacabana” and “It’s a Miracle.” Under our coach John’s tutelage, we diligently rehearsed until we’d managed to commit everything to memory.

John joked that we sounded too “good”–that in other words we had too much of a choral blend. “You sopranos should be trying to out-sing the altos and you tenors should be trying to out-sing the baritones,” he told us. I had to laugh. John’s instructions were the opposite of what most of us had spent years learning to do while singing in various choirs and other choral groups.

After allowing us to watch the first few numbers from the back of the arena, John corralled us for one final run-through and then it was time. We hurried up the steps to the risers that had been positioned above and behind the band for us to stand on. Standing directly above and behind one of the drummers, I was so close to the edge of the riser that I was worried I might fall onto the drummer and his drum kit below!

The music and the roar of the audience were deafening. So deafening in fact that we could hardly hear ourselves sing. Indeed, the highly amplified sound of the band and the sight of the FedEx Forum packed with people was so overwhelming that a lot of us (myself included) instantly forgot most, if not all, of the moves and the lyrics that we’d so carefully rehearsed.

And yet none of this seemed to matter. As Barry transitioned from “I Write the Songs” to “Copacabana” the crowd went wild. The show ended with a reprise of “It’s a Miracle” and then all of a sudden–with confetti cannons firing in every direction–our moment of glory–was over.

Sharing the spotlight with Barry Manilow, however briefly, was a thrilling experience that I will never forget.

And yet my sorrow was with me even as I stood on those risers taking in the incredible sight before me–ten thousand people singing and waving light sticks and yes, literally dancing–not in the streets, to borrow a line from one of Barry’s songs–but rather in the aisles.

For mine is a grief that will accompany me until the day I die. That’s just the way it is, and that’s what’s so terrifying about it, I guess, both to me as well as to many of those who know me. It truly is a life sentence.

I don’t have any choice in the matter. The grief that permeates my life as a result of my older son’s death is such an integral part of who I am that being without it, even for a moment, simply isn’t an option.

 

Backstage at the Barry Manilow concert

Backstage at the Barry Manilow concert

And yet I believe that those of us who mourn deeply are often in a fog; it’s like we’re sleepwalking. We may not even realize that we’re not fully engaged in life until something comes along that forces us to acknowledge that sometimes life is fun or interesting or even downright exciting and that it’s still going on all around us. And while I’m not definitely not a thrill seeker I do believe that intense experiences–such as absorbing hobbies, physically challenging activities or even the satisfaction that comes from helping others–can and often do provide those of us who are grieving with a “jolt” that can help us feel alive again, even if only temporarily.

Performing with Barry Manilow was just such a “jolt.” It reminded me of the time almost four years ago when as a military survivor I was invited to do a tandem parachute jump with the Army. On both occasions I discovered that there are indeed moments when my sorrow can coexist with another, very different emotion–that of exhilaration.

Purely visceral experiences. Experiences that put us firmly in the “now.” Maybe all of us–and especially mourners–need them every now and then.

If you’re among those who’ve endured a profound loss has there been anything that “helped,” at any point during your journey, even if only temporarily? If so (or not) I would love to hear from you.

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